Credit Sarah Shook & The Disarmers for avoiding the usual case of first time jitters. While Sidelong marks the band’s debut, Shook’s defiant attitude makes it clear that she’s not necessarily intimidated by the fact that she’s a freshman competing for attention with many artists who are far more familiar. Naming a track “Fuck Up” clearly makes a statement, whether it’s fessing up to her own, well, fuck ups, or simply affirming the fact that she takes no issue with being reckless and rebellious in equal measure. Likewise, judging by song titles like “Nothin’ Feels Right But Doin’ Wrong” and “Misery Without Company,” Shook’s badass attitude isn’t understated.
Still, Shook is a peculiar kind of renegade, and while that may appear to be quite a contradiction, the fact that the music sticks to a well worn template—rootsy, rocking, upbeat shuffles done double time to accompany the sounds of barroom pomposity—suggests she’s faithful to the kind of evergreen template most heartland heroes tend to adhere to. Whether it’s the weeping pedal steel that floats through the title track, or the rustic delivery given “The Nail,” Shook and company do an admirable job of tying past with present. Nothing here veers beyond anything we’ve heard from any other so-called “outlaw country” compadres, but it’s all done so convincingly it belies her rookie status.
Those familiar references go even deeper. “No Name” is narrated from the point of view of an Old West gunslinger who “leaves a wake of death behind me,” a south of the border tale Marty Robbins could have once sung. Indeed, Shook seems intent on proving she’s as sinister as she is sassy, and considering the rough and tumble attitude Sidelong projects, it all plays out the same.
Shook’s bold approach suggests reverence of another kind. “Dwight Yoakam” offers an unlikely homage to the man name checked in its title, sung with a weariness that’s both sincere and humble. Even so, that’s only a brief respite from her usual hellbound sermons. For the most part, Sarah Shook has no qualms at all about asserting her insurgence.